Every year basketball fans look forward to fantasy basketball drafts. Drafts not only mark the beginning of a long and competitive fantasy basketball season, but they also allow fantasy GM’s to fill their rosters out accordingly to their draft strategies. As an experienced fantasy basketball expert who has dominated leagues in multiple years, it has become evident that one’s first round pick is not the deciding factor on whether they will have a successful season or not. However, being able to draft a reliable superstar/all-star caliber player in the first round will provide the most the value to your team. With that being said, you are probably beginning to ponder over who you should draft in the first round. Well put that thought on hold because this article will tell you which player is the best choice for each of the top 12 picks.
1. Greek Freak
The Greak Freak should be the consensus number one pick for the first time in his career. Unlike the past two seasons that saw Anthony Davis and James Harden as the first two picks in most drafts, Giannis should be a no-brainer this year for those who will have the first pick. You need scoring? Draft Giannis. Rebounding? Draft Giannis. Blocks? Draft Giannis. Steals? Draft Giannis. High FG%? Draft Giannis. If that isn’t enough the Greek Freak rarely misses games, and in fact he has stated publicly that it pains him to miss games here and there because due to his competitive nature. Giannis is simply the most reliable and dependable superstar in the league, and you can expect him to play more games this year than Harden, Davis, Curry, Leonard, George, Embiid, and LeBron. James Harden may look like an intriguing option as well, but his numbers will go down with Russell Westbrook as his new back-court partner. If you have the first pick do not think long and hard about this, just take Giannis and go from there.
2. Stephen Curry
There is a strong case to be made for Stephen Curry as the consensus number two fantasy draft pick. With Kevin Durant departing from Golden State and Klay Thompson having to recover from a torn ACL, Curry will dominate in fantasy this year. Last time Stephen Curry was without Kevin Durant he was the unanimous MVP. With no KD and Klay, one can only assume Steph will have a magical season both for fantasy owners and for Warriors fans. He’s going a score a ton of points and will score well over his 27.3 ppg average from last season. On top of that the Warriors will have lower expectations this season. Like Giannis, Steph will not have to share the ball or split usage with another superstar on the roster. This is ultimately a notable reason as to why Giannis and Curry should be the first two picks in most drafts. Do not be surprised if Stephen Curry’s points per game average is similar to Harden’s average from last season. If you still have doubts just think of it this way, the greatest shooter of all time will be the primary scoring option and ball-handler on a team with low expectations.
3. James Harden
The third pick is not as clear cut as the first two picks. The reason being is that there are a couple of different players to consider drafting with this pick. However, James Harden is still the safest pick here. We all know what Harden will provide night in and night out, which is scoring, assists, and overall fantasy dominance. The addition of Westbrook will lower his opportunities, thus lowering his fantasy value, but Harden is still going to be the focal point of Houston’s offense. He will still be the primary scorer and will still be an MVP candidate. Even with Westbrook as his backcourt partner Harden will still be capable of averaging 30+ ppg due to his versatile and unique scoring methods. Aside from just scoring he will still get his high number of assists most nights. Many people are going to overthink this pick due to the fact that Harden’s opportunities will decrease because of Westbrook. However, Harden is still the most lethal offensive weapon in the league today, which alone should be enough to garner top 3 fantasy value. He will still have his fair share of 50 point triple-doubles this year as well. All in all, draft Harden with the third pick if Giannis and Curry are already taken.
4. Nikola Jokic
If you have the fourth pick then you will probably have the most challenging choice to make. Anthony Davis, Joel Embiid, LeBron James, and Karl-Anthony Towns will all be tempting options to go with. However, Nikola Jokic should be picked over all those guys. Jokic is coming off a season that saw him blossom into a superstar. Yes, not an all-star, but a superstar. He lead the Nuggets to the 2nd seed in the western conference. Jokic is easily the best passing big man, so he will automatically give you a boost in assists. Having a play-making superstar big man might just be the biggest positional advantage you can have. Think of it, an abundance of assists, 10+ rebounds, the ability to score 30+ points on any given night, and a high FG%. Jokic, like Giannis, is a player who you can expect to play almost every game of the regular season. Steph Curry and James Harden are going to miss some games due to rest or minor injuries. Jokic is only going to get better, and if he continues to lead the Denver Nuggets to success then his fantasy production will continue to flourish. Jokic may not seem like a sexy pick so high in the draft, but if you want high production and someone who can stuff the stat sheet then Nikola Jokic is the way to go. Drafting him will allow you to have a ton leeway with your important second round pick, as you won’t have to worry as much about whether your second round pick is going to have to be a great play-maker or a great rebounder.
5. Anthony Davis
Last season Anthony Davis was a consensus top 2 pick, and was drafted as the 1st overall pick by many, including myself. His draft stock should fall out the top 3, not because be got worst but mainly because he will have to get used to playing in a new system on a new team. Aside from that it is difficult to predict how his stats will change with LeBron as his teammate. His stats will be great regardless, but there’s still too much of an uncertainty regarding his situation to draft him in the top 4. Some might be hesitant to draft him because they consider him to be somewhat injury prone. While he is not as reliable and Giannis and Jokic, you can still count on him to play most games. This is coming from someone who has had him the past 2 years, and the only time that there was concern regarding his availability status was after his trade request. Expect a decent amount of game time decisions, but most of those will change to healthy before the game starts. Overall, Anthony Davis has the potential to still be a top 2 fantasy player, but there’s too much of an uncertainty regarding how his stats will be affected with LeBron has his teammate. He will still have insane performances and will be top 5 in blocks and rebounding most likely.
If you have the sixth pick you will likely have to choose one of these three players: KAT, LeBron, and Embiid. It’s very likely that one of these three players has already been chosen in the top 5, but if Karl-Anthony Towns is available then draft him with this pick. Granted if Jokic or Davis fall down to the sixth pick then draft them, but Karl-Anthony Towns should be the best available player at this spot. Players like LeBron, Emiid, or even Kawhi may seem more intriguing, but Towns is more dependable and is just as productive in fantasy leagues. There is no question mark surrounding availability status as you can count on him to play in most of his games. Last season saw him play 82 games for the third straight season. What is more impressive, however, is that KAT quietly dominated fantasy leagues last season, and many teams experienced success because they had him on their respective rosters. His averages of 24.4 points and 12.4 rebounds will go up this season as he will have an entire season of being the number one option. Aside from that he shot 40% from three! Towns will allow you to build your team in a multitude of different ways due to the fact that he excels in every single category. Just like Jokic and Davis, there will be some nights that Towns obliterates that stat sheets. All in all, draft Karl-Anthony Towns with the sixth pick and go from there.
7. LeBron James
LeBron is bound to have a bounce back year for the ages. He even has Stephan A. Smith predicting him to win MVP next season. There’s really not much to say regarding LeBron’s fantasy value. You know what he is going to produce night in and night out as he enters his 17th season. Even with Anthony Davis you can expect LeBron to have an array of insane performances after so many people have been slandering his name. LeBron is the perfect pick at this spot if he is still available because he will do everything. He can score 27 in his sleep, get 8 assists in his sleep, and get 8 rebounds in his sleep. Expect his assists to go up this year as has more shooters surrounding him. And of course he has the best big man in the world on his team to pass the ball to. Unfortunately load management is a strong concern regarding LeBron as he is entering his 17th season in the league. LeBron, who is turning 35 in December, will require more rest towards the latter end of the fantasy, the crucial part of the season. Unlike Kawhi and Embiid, LeBron is not injury prone. Yes, he had his first major injury last year, however it was not a sign of father time catching up to him. If it was a knee injury or a back injury then critics like Skip Bayless would have a point, but a groin injury is not indicative of old age or slowing down. Draft LeBron with this pick because he is a machine, but expect him to miss some games due to load management.
8. Joel Embiid
The single riskiest first round pick is Joel Embiid. When healthy he is a top 5 fantasy player, no question. In his second full season last year he scored 27.5 points per game, grabbed 13.5 rebounds per game, had 1.9 blocks per game, and shot considerably well from the field and the free throw line. Those numbers are only going to increase with the departure of both Jimmy Butler and J.J. Redick. Embiid is the biggest mismatch in the paint and will dominate in every game he plays. He is a competitor and despises not being able to play some nights, meaning that he is going to take advantage of the games that he will be available for. There is still going to be that uncertainty about how reliable and available he will be for fantasy owners. If he falls to the number eight pick then draft him because you can still draft someone like Luka Doncic or even his teammate Ben Simmons early in the second round which will create for a lethal fantasy duo. There is a high chance you will regret passing up on him due to his proven production, but it is understandable why one would be hesitant due to his injury concerns. The 76ers are also a top two team in the east, so they will be cautious throughout the regular season. This means that some nights he will be on a minutes restriction, and other he will rest due to load management. All in all this would be a great value pick because of his up-side.
9. Kawhi Leonard
Now we get to the part of the draft where the remainder of the first round picks are not as crucial as the top 8. They are still important, but keep in mind you do not have to knock these out of the park since you would will have an early second round pick not too shortly after. Kawhi will utilize load management a lot this year due to the fact that he does get banged up a lot throughout the season. Unlike Giannis who desires to play in every game possible, Kawhi is more reserved and is content with having to rest and maintain health in the regular season in order to pursue another championship. While Leonard is a top four player in real life, his fantasy numbers suggest that he should be drafted towards the end of the first round.His production is great, which is why he is a first round pick, but it is in the playoffs where Kawhi chooses to go beast mode. Kawhi will score 26 points in his sleep, get rebounds, and get plenty of steals which is great to begin your team with. Drafting Kawhi with this pick is like having a sturdy foundation for a building, it is a great place to start but there is still a lot of work to be done. Due to the hype around him many people will draft him too early, but if he falls to the ninth pick be sure to draft him. As long as you are confident that you will draft well in the second and third rounds, let the reigning finals MVP be the ninth pick if he is still available.
10. Damian Lillard
Damien Lillard, the 2nd point guard who should be taken off the board. is always an underrated fantasy player. Every year he is a fantasy nightmare for the opposing team. Dame is as consistent and as reliable as it gets, making him is the perfect late first round draft steal to build your team around. If there is an opportunity to draft a superstar guard who is the primary ball-handler and the number one scoring option on his team then you do it. Amazing scoring, lights out shooting, great passing, and is always available. There’s not much else to be said about Damian Lillard besides the fact that he will be the steal of the first round if he is drafted with the tenth pick.
11. Paul George
Last season Paul George was third in MVP voting, which resulted in him having a fantastic fantasy season. Despite the fact that he is on a much better team than last year and will have to share the ball with Kawhi Leonard, PG will still have a great season for his fantasy owners. The reason he is ranked lower than Damian Lillard is because Kawhi will have the most touches on the team, however there will be many nights where George will the the primary scorer. If you ask me, Kawhi and Paul George will likely alternate as the team’s primary scorer each game. There is just an uncertainty factor that aligns with this new system that he is in. Lillard is used to his system and will be the number one option most which is why he is a safer pick, for example. George is also recovering from a shoulder injury and is expected to miss the preseason and even a portion of the regular season according some. However, due to his upside and his impressive fantasy production in recent years there should be no reason to think that his numbers will drop much just because he is on a much better team. If Paul George drops this late draft him!
12. Russell Westbrook or Nikola Vucevic
In many drafts this pick is the last pick of the first round, but if it is not then this will still be helpful. This pick likely means you will have the first pick in the second round, so you can go either or with this one. Russell Westbrook and Nikola Vucevic will create a lethal duo for any fantasy team with the last pick in the first round as long as both players are still on the board. Even with James Harden on the team Westbrook will be same Westbrook we all know and “love.” Love him or hate him in real life there is no denying that Russ is almost everything you want in a fantasy player, except for shooting percentages which will be the main reason as to why you can expect him to drop this low. If you want scoring, assists, and rebounding then this is an absolute bargain. On the flip side, his FG%, 3pt%, and FT% are terrible. With that being said he will still dominate from week to week and he will most likely aim to average a triple double for the fourth consecutive season. If not he will get as close as one can get to a triple double average. If this is your last pick in the draft then make sure to draft Nikola Vucevic with your first pick in the second draft. Players like Bradley Beal, Luka Doncic, Ben Simmons, Kemba Walker, Devin Booker, and Jimmy Butler may seem like more popular picks, but trust me, Vucevic is the key to winning the draft. While Vucevic will almost always be the fourth center off the board (behind Jokic, Towns, and Embiid), there will be many nights where he will have more impressive fantasy performances than the other top three centers. His season averages will be less than the top three centers, but he will have many performances that could carry your team to victory. All in all, draft Wesbrook with the last pick in the first round, then draft Vucevic.